Dry and Secular
C. S. Lewis was an atheist when he climbed aboard the train. The whistles blew, the train pulled forward, and the young scholar lit into his new book. It was a Scottish fairytale of the wandering discoveries and transformations of a man lost in Fairy Land. By the time he turned the last page and the train came to a stop, he was a changed man. Years later he explained, “that night [on the train], my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized...” The book sparked something, so that the rest of his life was an insatiable pursuit of God. What does it take to waken up a sleeping soul to the reality of God? Secularism, consumerism, television, and all those comforts of our modern life have the effect of a narcotic. They make us drowsy and blasé, halfhearted and only superficially concerned with spiritual matters. How can we shake it off and walk with God?
As our Lord was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he met a man deaf and mute.
“They brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released” (Mk. 7:31-35).
If there was ever a miracle needed in our times, this is it. We are deaf and mute, not in body, but in heart. Christ has the cure.
The man was deaf. On the Internet, there are a number of poetry blogs for the deaf. Among these, one anonymous author has described her experiences in a poem called “Being Deaf.” She writes:
“I heard not a thing in my silent world, not the sweet choir of the birds nor the swish of the wind blowing the grass; not the bubbling brook, nor the swaying trees…I wanted to hear…instead I was locked inside my quiet world; separated from the delight of creation.”
Deafness feels like a kind of cutting off from the world. You can see the trees blowing or watch the smiling faces of people enjoying a conversation, but it is inaccessible, beyond reach. You are locked inside yourself. In a way, we can all relate. In our secular times, we feel trapped in a disenchanted world. Despite our entertainment and technology, life so easily feels empty and stuffy. Whether or not we believe in God, he simply feels distant.
What is it like to be a modern person? A Canadian philosopher, James K. A. Smith, says we live in a secular age, in a time where the universe feels flattened and meaningless. “[We live today in a] flattened human universe where the escapes are boredom and distraction…most of the time the best ‘salvation’ we can hope for is found in behaviors that numb us to this reality; drugs, sex, entertainments of various sorts…a spectre haunts our secular age, ‘the spectre of meaningless’…” We have forgotten God or confined him to a safe distance. Consequently, nothing fills our hearts.
Sometimes, the best way to understand a culture is by looking at its music. We are not satisfied, and that dissatisfaction leaks out into lyrics. Here is a song by the indie pop group, Post Services:
And I’m looking through the glass
Where the light bends at the cracks
And I’m screaming at the top of my lungs
Pretending the echoes belong to someone –
Someone I used to know.
It is all in Holy Scripture. The Psalter goes to the same place in the heart. “Lord…turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed…I am counted among those who go down to the dead…I am set apart with the dead…I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim” (Ps. 88: 1-3, 5, 8-9). Some are depressed and turn to distractions to fill them. The rest of us may be simply dry.
Where is the hunger for God? Where is our fervor to pray and fast? When I read the lives of the saints, I always marvel at their passion. They spend their entire days in prayer. Yet, why do I have so much trouble following their example? Why is it so hard to sit still long enough to pray a rosary, let alone, a rosary day after day? Why is it a struggle to stand for five minutes before an icon, let alone to pray unceasingly? Why do temptations suck us in like a vacuum? We are that man deaf and mute, and Jesus Christ is our hope.
Our Lord took the deaf man aside, put his fingers into his ears, and touched his tongue.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
The message of the Christian gospel is this: if we seek Him, God will reach down and touch us. The deaf man knew loneliness. He was cut away, rejected, and hopeless, when, all of a sudden, a hand touches him. This is the touch of the Creator. It is the touch of Midas. Rather than turning us into gold, God can make us alive. There is no loneliness that God cannot break through. There is no meaninglessness that God cannot fill and permeate. With a touch, God can make us young again. Like dew in the morning, heaven brings freshness.
Why does Jesus Christ heal with spit and clay? This miracle could not be more beautiful. When God touches us, he heals our life, soul and body, spirit and matter. God permeates our daily, human life. A home blessed with prayers and holy water is a home full of angels. The air in the Christian home is different than the air in an atheist’s home. It buzzes with spirit. A day filled with prayer is a day filled with life. Even if you say the name ‘Jesus’ over a sandwich, that sandwich is transformed fundamentally. The presence of God fills our lives the way sunlight fills a landscape. God’s healing is real.
Yet, most of the time we settle. Maybe we feel that we have enough of God. Maybe life took a turn, it did not go the way we wanted, and so we are just waiting it out, living in the past or dreaming about the future. Most of the time, we are not even aware that our soul is dry. We imagine we are good just the way we are. Meanwhile, Christ stands at the door and knocks. “If anyone hears my voice and opens…I will come in to him.” What does this mean? God will shower us with gifts as soon as our hands our empty enough to receive.
Looking up to heaven, he groaned, saying, “Ephphatha,” “Be opened” (Mk 7:35).
St. Bede suggests that Christ groaned to teach us how to pray. “He looked up to heaven to teach us that it is from there the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He groaned, not because He needed [anything]…but that He might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy.”
So, your soul is numb and your heart is dry. When Ezekiel stood in the valley of the bones, the Lord commanded him:
“Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord’” (Ez. 37:4-6).
A little book was enough to spark life in the soul of C. S. Lewis. Heaven knows what is needed in our lives to wake us up. We must begin by praying. God will do the rest.